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Rev Norman Bowman

Minister and lecturer;

Born: September 19, 1912; Died: September 15, 2012.

Rev Norman Bowman, who died four days before his 100th birthday, was a greatly respected minister, a fine teacher and an accomplished musician and poet

Born in Saltcoats, he was the youngest of six children. He was educated at Saltcoats Primary School and Ardrossan Academy. In his teens he played the trumpet in a local dance band. In fact, he had asked for a trumpet for his 100th birthday.

When he left school in 1928 he went to work in a cousin's printing works in Kilmarnock, but it was not long before, on the train to work, he experienced the powerful sense that he needed to do something more challenging. He studied to achieve the qualifications for university entrance and graduated Master of Arts in 1935 and Bachelor of Divinity in 1938. There were almost 60 candidates for the ministry who left Trinity College that year.

For the next two years he was assistant minister in Richmond Craigmillar Church in Edinburgh, which had been transported into Niddrie and had only just occupied a newly built church and halls. In 1940 he was ordained and inducted to his first parish, Kilsyth Burns.

He volunteered for war service three years later, as an army chaplain, and served with the Black Watch in Belgium and Germany. He was wounded in the crossing of the Rhine in March, 1945. Three months later, having returned home, he married Jean.

Within a year, he had applied for a posting with the then Foreign Mission Committee of the Church of Scotland. Originally he hoped to be sent to Jamaica but was appointed a missionary in Calabar in Nigeria, where Scottish Presbyterianism had been active since the days of Mary Slessor, who founded the Hope Waddell Training Institute which provided vocational training for Africans.

He taught in the college, as well as managing 52 schools, making sure, he liked to say, that all the teachers were paid. He spent five years in Nigeria, returning to Scotland in 1950 to spend a year as locum minister at the Ayr Auld Kirk before being inducted to Bonhill Old Parish.

Dr Iain Galbraith, who was brought up in Bonhill Old during Mr Bowman's ministry, has written that he was "a man of many gifts – scholar, theologian, preacher, teacher, musician and craftsman".

He was a challenging preacher who wrote plays and composed music for the Sunday school, displaying his gifts as a teacher with the Bible class. He acted with the dramatic club and, Dr Galbraith added "his mechanical knowledge repaired the clock in the church tower as soundly as he repaired his cars".

In 1957 he moved to St Mary's Church in Edinburgh's New Town where he was to have just as active a ministry, undertaking all sorts of tasks outwith the normal ministerial duties. In particular his gifts as a writer made him keen to edit the parish magazine. He left St Mary's in 1964 yet is still remembered there with considerable affection.

He wanted a change, and Napier College (as it then was) was looking for staff. When he was interviewed for a post teaching liberal studies, one of the interviewing panel expressed some concern at his lack of teaching experience. The Councillor for the Bellevue area (which included St Mary's Church) said: "He's been teaching all his life."

Melville Dinwiddie, who had made the transition from parish minister to the secular world as Director General of the BBC, and was at the time a councillor in Edinburgh, advised him that he might find it difficult to adjust to no longer "running his own show". Mr Bowman's ministry had reflected the proper role of minister as servant. But he would have insisted he may have been a congregation's servant but that did not make the congregation his master.

The rest of his working life was to be spent in teaching; at Napier College and George Watson's Ladies College where he was chaplain and also taught Latin.

In 1976 he spent some time in Moorsville North Carolina where he formed a close relationship with the minister there, Ed Lewis. A plaque presented to him, recording the congregation's appreciation of his ministry, took pride of place in his home.

The following year he retired and became Secretary of the Order of St John. In recent years he returned to Saltcoats, where he was a greatly loved member of St Cuthbert's Parish Church, and associated with its Kirk Session. Until he became less mobile he was in demand as a preacher, and several congregations expected no other minister to deputise if their own minister was absent for any reason. He wrote several books of poems and composed a number of hymn tunes.

Norman Bowman is survived by his three sons, Norrie, John and Alastair, his daughter Jane and their families.

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